Album Review: String Theorie’s ‘Little Elephant’

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Hartford trio String Theorie has released a full-length debut, "Little Elephant." (Photo by Minyan Zhu)

While instrumental music is largely a showcase for technique, mood is an important consideration, too. Hartford instrumental trio String Theorie (performing tonight, April 5, in Hartford) does an admirable job balancing the two on “Little Elephant,” the group’s self-released full-length debut.

On 11 songs, guitarist Joel Weik, bassist Karl Messerschmidt and percussionist Jordan Critchley show the range of their abilities. They use an array of instruments — guitar, various djembe drums, cello, vibraslap, congas, chimes, clave, Tibetan singing bowl and many more — to flesh out sounds drawn from elements of world music, jazz and funk.

The trio dials in a sultry Eastern feel in the fingerstyle guitar flourishes, low rumbling bass counterpoint and pitter-pat percussion of opener “I Don’t Like It,” and lays back on the mellow “Vitrify,” which unfolds over 6 minutes from droplets of guitar to a steady, low-key musical flow, with virtuosic interplay among all three instruments, that’s sort of the aural equivalent of lazing away a sunny spring day in some idyllic pastoral setting.

String Theorie’s more playful side emerges on “Ptolemy the Pretender,” which starts as a swift flowing Greek-dance style celebratory tune that also features the only vocals on the album when the threesome pauses after each time through the central theme to exclaim in unison, “Hey!” The title track  is a robust workout instrumental workout driven by a tight, rubbery bass sound, while chiming guitar harmonics at the start of “Red Queen” yield to imposing low end from drums and bass.

All told, “Little Elephant” is a well-crafted exploration of what, for many listeners, will be unfamiliar sounds and styles. String Theorie makes the music accessible. What’s more, the trio makes it welcoming.

String Theorie performs Thursday, April 5, at Art After Hours: Jan Tichy/Matrix 164 exhibition opening at the Wadsworth Atheneum, 600 Main St., Hartford. Admission is $10, $5 for students; the event begins at 5 p.m. There’s more information here.

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